Red Sands

The Hollies (30th October 1888: Late Afternoon)
30th October 1888: Late Afternoon

The train pulled into the quiet rural station at Okehampton just after four. The jounery had been a tiring one, and as they stared out of the carriage windows between Exeter and Okehampton they had been able to glimpse something of the bleak and wild beauty of Dartmoor.

As Mr. Cribbins the Station Master helped them with their luggage, Sebastian was approached by an elderly man in an overcoat and bowler hat, well muffled against the cold.

“Young Mister Sebastian Sir? Is that really you?” the man enquired.

“My word! It’s Jacobs! " exclaimed Sebastian. “How are you doing Mr. Jacobs?”

“Very well Sir, thank you” replied Jacobs.“The present trouble aside that is.”

Jacobs had a trap waiting outside, and into this they piled their luggage. Henry had a quick word with the Station Master about a delivery they were expecting from London, which would hopefully early next morning: they had made a quick trip to a Gentleman’s outfitters after they had left Lady Amelia.

It was a good half hour drive to the Hollies, as they left Okehampton along the Tavistock Road, and then turned off to the left on a minor track into Dartmoor.The light had almost faded when they turned into the Drive of the Hollies, a largish two story red brick Country House typical of the rural Esquire: a modest dwelling for a Lord perhaps, but still a very respectable dwelling by the standards of most. As the cold mist of Dartmoor descended they were shown to their rooms and settled in.

“I will serve tea presently Sir. Dinner will be at eight.” offered Jacobs.

Half an hour later, briefly refreshed and changed, the group sat in the library while Jacobs brought in tea. They took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about recent events.

“I understand you found the body of his Lordship Jacobs: what can you tell us about it?” asked Sebastian.

“Well it was quite a shock Sir, but I will offer what help I can” replied Jacobs.

“Good man. What can you tell us?” nodded Sebastian.

“Well Sir it was around 7.30 pm. His Lordship liked a glass of Port at that time, so I knocked on his study. There was no reply so I just went in. He was lying in front of his desk on the floor Sir, in a pool of his own blood.” Jacob’s face blanched slightly at the memory.

“Take a moment Jacobs” said Sebastian. “What were his injuries?”

“I am not really qualified to say Sir, but it appeared to me that he had been stabbed, though i cannot really elaborate further. I drove the trap into the village and informed Doctor Locock, the local physician, but he did not discuss the injuries with me. I also sent a telegram to Lady Cotterill, and informed the local constable, Sir.” answered Jacobs.

“I say” chipped in Bertie, “Has anyone been in the room since, What?”

“No Sir I was most careful, and I avoided the blood so as avoid spoiling the carpets further Sir. I did have to board up the broken window however, for fear of the damage the rain might cause.”

“A broken window you say?” asked Sebastian.

“Yes Sir, the central bay window Sir” responded Jacobs. “The central pane was completely smashed.”

After discussing the matter, thye decided to examine the ground outside, before checking Lord Cotterill’s study upstairs. As they exited they saw that a Full Moon was rising above the mist, and they walked round the side of the house with lanterns to check the flower beds below the dead man’s study.

Henry checked the ground below the thick ivy, which would have made a climb up to the first floor quite straightforward for an active man.

“This is deuced odd” he said. "I make out THREE sets of footprints. One pair of boots, and two barefooted sets of prints-one a bt larger than the other. As he examined the ivy Bertie frowned and started to scrabble among the flowers.

“I say there is an awful lot of broken glass down here. In fact most of it, I’d say” he surmised.

“Most of it? But that means….” started Henry.

“It likely means the dashed window was broken from the INSIDE” said Bertie. “And that’s not all- look here.” He pointed. Down at the edge of the flower bed were a pair of very large barefooted footprints- and the prints were buried very deep into the soil. There were also some traces of blood.

“I’d say some dashed big chap either jumped down through and broke it, or jumped down when it was already broken and landed on some broken glass.”

“You missed something else too Henry old chap” said Bertie smugly. “Mr. Boots seemed have arrived after the two barefoot gents. See? His footprints always overprint those of the other two.” Henry nodded, slightly embarrassed for having missed it. There were also signs that the footprints may have led off across the lawn, but this task they decided to leave until daylight, and headed up into the study.

Jacobs unlocked the door and walked over and lit the lamps. According to his account, the room was as it had been left, apart from the boarding up of the broken window.

Sebastian looked round, and immediately noticed a coat hanging next to the door: checking this he found Lord Cotterill’s wallet and a small set of keys.

“Those open his Lordship’s desk Sir”, said Jacobs.

An ashtray on the desk contained an expensive cigar stub. When asked Jacob’s suggested that it was not Lord Cotterill’s, who had not been a smoker. In fact he had hated the smell of cigar and cigarette smoke so much he would usually open a window if someone else indulged: the cigar had most likely belonged to Mr. Burtle.

The desk contained a few papers but none which seemed of interest, and a large key-apparently for the safe, which was wide open. Lady Glossop examined the lock, and observed that the lock was of high quality: however, it was her opinion that it had been opened nevertheless, by a cracksman who knew his business. Inside were plans and some private letters, but these seemed to be for nothing extraordinary. Bertie however, pointed down at the carpet, next to dried pool of blood.

“It looks like Mr. Boots trod in it-there’s a slight heel mark painted on the carpet.” he commented.“There’s also quite a small amount of glass in here.”

“My guess is that Msrs. Bigfoot and Littlefoot were at least outside. Mr Bigfoot climbed in, and then left in a hurry, jumping right down and smashing through the window. Then Mr. Boot climbed in.”

“And opened the safe” added Lady Glossop.

“Well that’s all logical” said Sebastian, “But I have no idea what to make of it.”

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Lady Amelia Speaks (30th October 1888)
30th October 1888

The next morning Sebastian and the others arrived at the Gore Hotel, and were directed to a private room. Seated by the fire was an attractive lady dressed in a fine, black dress. She rose as they entered, and a faint smile lit her face as she recognised Sebastian. She held out her hand, which he bowed and kissed.

“Sebastian, and Sirs,” she began, “Thank you for seeing me at such short notice. I need your help at a time of great personal crisis." She paused, and tears seemed about to well up into her beautiful face, but she managed to master her emotions and return to the point at hand.

“To put it bluntly, I wish you to look into the murder of my father.” There was a pause, and as his companions muttered their condolances. Sebastian stepped forward with a look of shock on his face. She held her hand forward.

“No please Sebastian, let me finish”, she said, “I am finding this so very difficult as it is, and I must get to the end of it.” He bowed his head and she continued.

“My father was murdered at our family home near Okehampton four days ago- you know it well Sebastian.” She looked at him and he nodded slowly.

“I have been away in India, but returned with my fiancée just yesterday and learned of the terrible news. Father had been working hard on a new invention and I returned to ensure he was looking after himself — he was not a well man.”

“Oh? Why is that Lady Amelia?” asked Henry.

“His replies to my letters were becoming more erratic. I made a few discreet enquiries among family friends and it seemed that there had been several recurrences of his malaria. Knowing his tendency towards over work I decided it might be prudent to return.”

“And what were the circumstances of your poor father’s death?” asked Sebastian.

“It seems Jacobs, the butler found him.” she replied. "He took father his evening tea and found him dead in his study. Jacobs said that my father had been stabbed by an intruder.”

“I say!” exclaimed Bertie, “Was anything stolen?”

“The safe door was open, but I do not know exactly what was inside. As soon as I learned of the murder I telegrammed you and ordered that nothing in the study be touched. Father’s body was taken away, of course, to the local doctors, for a postmortem.”

“Eh,but what about Police?” purred Marco with his smooth voice. Sebastian frowned slightly.

“And what about his visitors that day? What?” asked Bertie.

“His only visitor was his business partner, Mr. Edington Burtle.” explained Lady Amelia.

“According to Jacobs, he and father had a frightful row. Their voices could be heard throughout the entire house. Mr. Burtle stormed off without waiting to be shown out. Unfortunately, Jacobs could hear voices, but not words. Mr. Burtle is elsewhere in England on business, but I have left messages for him to come to Okehampton as soon as he receives them. And as for the Police, Sergeant Barnes is a dear man and knew my father well. His heart is in the right place, but I fear he lacks the experience to bring my father’s killer to justice”

“Hmm. And what was your father working on at the time?” asked Sebastian.

“According to father’s last telegram, which I received two weeks ago in Alexandria, he had just finished a new invention and was waiting to hear back from the War Office on the prospect of a contract. As always in these matters, father was tight-lipped and I do not profess to understand his work.” said Lady Amelia.

”But I don’t understand" puzzled Sebastian, “Why have I not read of his death in the papers?”

“Fortunately we live in a small community and I have managed to keep father’s death quiet for now. However, news will undoubtedly leak out, and as a peer of the realm murdered in his home, this will attract reporters from Fleet Street. I wish to have the case solved before then to avoid any unnecessary speculation.”

“Of course, I have some small personal resources, but…….” Just then there was a commotion at the door, and a sharp female rebuke to the hotel porter. The door swung open, and an immaculate Lady Glossop entered, smiling archly.

“Oh I hope you will forgive me for my little lateness my dears, but I had an early appointment at the Salon.” As the immediate centre of attention she smiled at Lady Amelia. " My what a lovely dress, I used to have one rather like it, until I gave it away to my maid."

Sebastian looked askance at the arrival of Lady Glossop with some irritation. He had been half-listening to Lady Amelia’s story of grief while at the same time working out how best to offer her some ‘physical comfort’ as a way of consoling her.

Lady Glossop’s arrival and the look on her face told him that this was not going to be such an easy task while she was around and so he brought his attention back to the more important situation.

“Well obviously as officers and gentlemen, there is no shadow of a doubt that we would help a damsel in distress, especially for such an … such a loyal friend,” Sebastian said, his eyes struggling to keep eyes on her rather than on her decolletage. He pulled a Bradshaw from one of the bookcases and started to thumb through it.

“Hmm…Time is obviously of the essence." he said. “We should make haste to get to Waterloo Bridge Station where we can catch the London and South West railway service direct to Okehampton. There is a station in Okehampton itself, and so the place is quite easy to get to. If we catch the early afternoon train we can be there by four.”

Thanking Sebastian profusely, Lady Amelia agreed to telegram Jacobs and have him meet the group at the station in Okehampton with the carriage. Unfortunately she needed to stay in London and begin sorting out her father’s affairs, but she promised to return to Devon as soon as possible.

“Thank you Sebastian, and thank you Gentleman. Thank you all.”

Marco grinned to himself as he noted there was no mention of Lady Glossop.

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Bertie's Musical Interlude (29th October 1888: 11 am)
29th October 1888: 11 am

Hearing the sound of Bertie’s baritone, and the sound of a piano playing in the lounge room Sebastian and Henry headed towards the sound. Marko was smoking a cigarette, staring out of the window at the light drizzle.

“Now how I came to get this hat, ’tis very strange and funny
Grandfather died and left to me his property and money
And when the will it was read out, they told me straight and flat
If I would have his money, I must always wear his hat"

“Where did you get that hat? Where did you get that tile?
Isn’t it a nobby one, and just the proper style?
I should like to have one Just the same as that!"
Where’er I go, they shout “Hello! Where did you get that hat?”

“If I go to the op’ra house, in the op’ra season
There’s someone sure to shout at me without the slightest reason
If I go to a concert hall to have a jolly spree
There’s someone in the party who is sure to shout at me"

“Where did you get that hat? Where did you get that tile?
Isn’t it a nobby one, and just the proper style?
I should like to have one Just the same as that!"
Where’er I go, they shout “Hello! Where did you get that hat?”

“At twenty-one I thought I would to my sweetheart get married
The people in the neighbourhood had said too long we’d tarried
So off to church we went right quick, determined to get wed
I had not long been in there, when the parson to me said"

“Where did you get that hat? Where did you get that tile?
Isn’t it a nobby one, and just the proper style?
I should like to have one Just the same as that!"
Where’er I go, they shout “Hello! Where did you get that hat?”

“I once tried hard to be M.P. but failed to get elected
Upon a tub I stood, round which a thousand folks collected
And I had dodged the eggs and bricks (which was no easy task)
When one man cried, “A question I the candidate would ask!” "

“Where did you get that hat? Where did you get that tile?
Isn’t it a nobby one, and just the proper style?
I should like to have one Just the same as that!"
Where’er I go, they shout “Hello! Where did you get that hat?”

“When Colonel South, the millionaire, gave his last garden party
I was amongst the guests who had a welcome true and hearty
The Prince of Wales was also there, and my heart jumped with glee
When I was told the Prince would like to have a word with me"

“Where did you get that hat? Where did you get that tile?
Isn’t it a nobby one, and just the proper style?
I should like to have one Just the same as that!"
Where’er I go, they shout “Hello! Where did you get that hat?”

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A Damsel in Distress (29th October 1888)
29th October 1888

Sebastian walked into the smoking room, frowning slightly. Henry looked up from his newspaper; Sebastian was looking slightly better he thought. He had even seen Marko without his sling earlier: that man must have a constitution like an Ox.

“Something the matter?” asked Henry. Sebastian hesitated, and then handed him the telegram. Perching his reading glasses on his nose Henry examined it.

THE HOLLIES
NEAR OKEHAMPTON
DARTMOOR
DEVONSHIRE
ENGLAND

Dear Captain Shaw,

I seek your assistance in a matter of urgency concerning my father, Lord Arthur Cotterill. I Have heard that you were back in London, and I remember our childhood days with some affection, when you spent several summers at our house.

I shall be in the Gore Kensington Hotel in two days and I wish to meet to discuss a matter of some import.

I hope that I can prevail on our childhood friendship to some extent, and that you can find time to accomodate my request.

With respect,

Lady Amelia Cotterill

“Got it yesterday”, said Sebastian, “So she’ll be here tomorrow.”

“But what does it all mean?” asked Henry, “Who is the Lady?”

“Well her father is Lord Arthur Cotterill-he resides on Dartmoor in a big house called The Hollies: my Guv’nor was an old friend of his, and I spent three or four perfectly happy summers there during the long holidays when I was a lad. Lord Arthur is founder of the Cotterill Armaments Company, and half a dozen of his patents are used by the British military. He’s certainly not short of a few Bob that’s for sure.”

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All's Well that Ends Well (24th October 1888: 3 pm)
24th October 1888: 3 pm

Once again Henry and his comrades sat in a side room of the Explorer’s Society. This time Marko had a shoulder and arm heavily bandaged up, and both Bertie and Sebastian aslo had signs of wear and tear. Professor Bottoms smiled benignly, while Inspector Fox reported the aftermath of their discoveries.

“It turns out they weren’t Frenchies after all”, he explained. “In fact they were Belgians.”

“Belgians?” frowned Henry.

“Yes that’s right. Led by one Siaak Theodore, an inventing genius of some notoriety, and established criminal bent. The submersible vehicle, the suits-all of those things were the product of his own brilliant mind.”

“But what was the Bounder up to?” asked Sebastian.

“Well we’ve pretty much got the whole picture now I think”, explained Inspector Fox, “They were kidnapping Palace servants and hoping to replace them with their own people-we found a Safe House too with some other conspirators-and the other two missing captives. Their plan, briefly put, was to organise the biggest Art Heist of National Treasures this Country has ever seen -from Kensington Palace of course.”

“I say” said Bertie, “A bit of Gall, what?”

“It was certainly a very daring plan”, agreed Inspector Fox. “But I fear Msr. Siaak somewhat over reached himself on this final occasion. A brilliant man who wasted his talents, and in the end, his life.” He shook his head.

“Still there is another bright spot for you. The Palace is going to offer up some sort of reward to you. I’m sure that it will more than compensate you for your help in this matter.”

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Down, Down, Deeper and Down (24th October 1888)
24th October 1888

AS soon as the parks gates opened at 6.30 am a nondescript horse drawn wagon entered, and drove around to the north eastern edge of the lake. On reporting back to Professor Bottoms the previous evening Sebastian had enquired if the Explorers Society could procure any Diving Gear: this was the result.

Four figures emerged, clad in what the Professor had described as “Dr. Rickmann’s Improved Siebe- Fluess Self Contained Diving Apparatus.” It was both similar to the Siebe Suit that Marko had some familiarity with, and different in that it hosted a self contained air supply on its back, and a special demand valve mouthpiece apparatus was contained within the brass diving helmet. With the help of the driver and the accompanying Explorer’s Society Technician, they were lowered into the Serpentine.

For those unfamiliar with diving the moment of submersion was one of acute panic and fear-especially so for Sebastian who was not a good swimmer. The Serpentine was hardly the North Sea however, and was little more than a dozen feet deep: the manoeuvre process was more akin to hill walking than actual swimming, although the novice divers were probably not quite as efficient in their breathing and use of air as the more experienced Marko.

The beams of their lamps led them across to the middle of the lake, and here they noticed a faint current leading towards the eastern edge, which they decided to follow. The reason soon became apparent. A large metal circular grate, some two yards or more in diameter had been removed-cut with some tool by the look of it. Behind this was a circular tunner which led, Henry surmised, towards the Thames. By means of gesture and signs they determined to follow it- they still had plenty of air.

After half an hour they were relieved to see an exit, and peering around them saw that they were the grey slatted mud of the river itself: the depth here was still not too great, maybe only thirty feet or so.

Ahead of them however hung something looking for all the world like some sinister metal whale: hanging in the water, with its tower only a few feet below the surface, was some sort of small submersible vehicle some sixty or seventy feet long. Moving gingerly across the open river bed-a distance of only twenty yards or so, they could see that underneath the vehicle was an open circular entrance-no doubt emerging into a chamber in the fashion of a Diving Bell. They started to climb up the metal ladders.

They emerged, not without a clatter, in a rectangular room lined with lockers and pipework, with two hatches exiting fore and aft. Sebastian winced as his diving weights caught the end of the metal ladder with a clang.

As quickly as they could Marko, Sebastian and Bertie divested themselves of helmets and boot weights, while Henry curiously opened one of the lockers to the south: inside were four of the frog-like giving suits, and metal tridents. He was about to alert the others of the discovery when the wheel on the rear hatch spun round, and a woolen skullcap festooned head glared out at them.

“Sacre Bleu” he screamed, “C’est le Peelers!” A waft of garlic filled the small chamber and he dropped a small round cheese in shock. With a clatter of dropped baguettes and wooden plates behind them, another three annoyed matelots emerged, armed with knives and whatever else they had managed to grab to hand.

Still in his heavy diving suit, Henry took an unorthodox approach. Bear hugging the man in front of him he toppled down into the water, the two of them entering the chill and murky embrace of the Thames.

Grabbing their diving knives and hatchets the others engaged the sailors, and all was going well until the front hatch also opened and four more men appeared-this time dressed more formally, and armed with pistols.

In the close confines of the compartment however close combat was equally effective, and soon only two of the Bridge Crew remained.

“Surrender now Froggies!” called Bertie.

“Ah speet een your face you pathetic Eenglish beiur swillers!” called their leader. “With your terrible roast dinneurs and stodgy food. We can only triumph against zuch Barbarians!”

As the three rushed the cabin Marko stumbled with a bullet in his shoulder, but one of the matelots also fell to the ground. Out of bullets the sneering Captain drew a rapier he carried at his side, but finally, with both Bertie and Sebastian being in extremely poor shape, Henry managed to clamber back up the ladder, and fire into the melee with a fallen pistol. It was a lucky shot, and the man fell to the ground with a small hole in his forehead.

As Henry removed his diving gear and saw to Marko’s wound, the others searched the small bridge, finding a small cupboard type room with a very frightened looking young man and woman.

“The missing pair I assume” said Sebastian triumphantly, and so indeed it proved.

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Attack of the Frog Man (23rd October 1888: 7 pm)
23rd October 1888: 7 pm

In his Bonnet and hood Bertie mumbled to himself, still not happy about being dressed as a Kensington Palace servant girl. He lagged behind the other staff leaving the Palace eastwards, and loitered against a tree smoking a cigarette, attracting quite a few double takes.

Seeing that he was now a few dozen yards behind the hindmost, he stamped his cigarette out and arranged his skirts. In some peculiar way he felt strangely liberated. He commenced his slow amble along the south bank of the Serpentine, towards the area where the previous attacks had occured.

“This is a bally waste of time” he grumbled to himself. “Why couldn’t bloody Henry dress up for this tomfoolery?”

And then the Frog Man was stood in front of him. Bertie did a good impression of a fish himself as his jaw dropped.

The bizarre figure in front of him had appeared out of nowhere. It had a black, slimy suit or skin, and a strange baroque frog- like head. Its feet indeed were webbed. In one hand it held a trident, and the other a net. It jabbed at him, but completely missed.

“You wicked, wicked man!” shrieked Bertie, doing his best Palace servant girl impression.“’Eow dare you make advances on a poor defenceless begger washer woman serving girl!” In the excitement he had completely forgotten his role.

It had all happened so fast. Henry just stared for a moment, hidden behind the laurel edge. As he was the only one of the others with a clear vision of proceedings, Marko and Sebastian did nothing.

Bertie thrust out with the sword cane he carried, but the Frog Man dodged easily to the side-no doubt nearly as surprised as Bertie. Finally the others rushed forward, Henry firing his pistol, while Marko and Sebastian charged.

The figure crouched, and then with a strange hissing sound leapt high up into the air. Henry caught a brief sight of him as he hit the surface of the water some twenty yards away, and then disappeared beneath the surface of the Serpentine.

“By Jove!” said Bertie. “You don’t see that sort of thing every day. By the way chaps, these shoes are killing me.”

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Shiney Jack (23rd October 1888)
23rd October 1888

The information they had received from Albert and Theodore had pinpointed both kidnappings at roughly the same point along the south eastern corner of the Serpentine. Hiding themselves behind a tall laurel hedge to the south of the path in this area, they observed the human traffic early the next morning.

There was very definitely a peak in traffic between about 6.40 am and 7.15 am, as Palace staff either left after a night duty, or reported for work at approximately seven. After this time there was a lull in park users until slightly later, when other members of the public started to use the facilities.

After speaking to Albert once again they went off in search of the vagrant who had been witness to the vanishing of the first victim-Katherine Mullard on the 15th.

Retiring to the Tea Shop at around 10 am, they eventually located him begging off Park Users: until one of the Park Keepers located him again of course.

The exchange of a few shillings revealed his account, which seemed remarkably similar to Albert’s. They determined that their best course of action was simply to continue watching the southeastern corner of the lake at 7 am and 7 pm.

“Of course it might all work a lot better” said Henry, " If we had a lure. Like tying up a goat to attract a rogue Lion."

All eyes turned toward Bertie.

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A Minor Diversion (22nd October 1888: 4 pm)
22nd October 1888: 4 pm

Henry relaxed in the armchair he had adopted in the Explorers Club. As he expected a message had summoned him to meet with Professor Bottoms. Outside a chill autumn morning had turned to a cold rain and now a chill river mist was descending. Consequently he had retreated to the Club early with his newspaper and had spent a pleasant afternoon perched by the fire, with a view out at the bleak October scene. He had also sent his own messages to Bertie and the others, and they too had started to drift in. Professor Bottoms got straight to the point.

“Gentlemen, The Society have been approached by Scotland Yard , who in the present circumstances are looking for assistance to deal with some additional matters. Your name was mentioned, Mr. Rothmann-it seems you may have a connection there.”

“To get straight to the point: it seems that something has been attacking pedestrians in Hyde Park at night. They have offered the Society a small sum, and are also prepared to offer you a generous £1 per day. Needless to say, if we can assist them, the resulting goodwill for the Society will far exceed this mere monetary value. Gentlemen, you have an opportunity to make us shine.”

“An Inspector Fox has provided a copy here of all reports relating to the three incidents to date, along with the names and whereabouts of the eyewitnesses.”

“Bizarre as it may seem, it would seem that the pedestrians were accosted by a humanoid figure clad in a shiny black suit, but with a huge, frog-like head and brandishing a trident.” explained Professor Bottoms. Bertie snickered. The Professor frowned before continuing.

“The clearest witness, a groundskeeper for the park, called Albert Postlethwaite, claimed that the creature threw a net over a man and a woman, whereupon they both collapsed without resistance. According to the witness, the creature did not appear particularly agile, though the constables found nothing around the scene but odd footprints best described as a man-frog’s, trailing a few feet before they vanished. The other witnesses saw the pair walking but not the actual incident.”

“So far four people have disappeared in this way- the latest being a double incident. The matter is certain to generate rumour and gossip: something the Police are keen to circumvent in what are already difficult times for them.”

“If we hurry we might pop along and have a word with the Parkie before they lock up” suggested Sebastian. “No time like the present.”

A cab soon escorted Sebastian, Bertie, Henry and Marko to the eastern edge of Hyde Park, close to the Cavalry Barracks. Reading the notice they read that the park gates would be locked at 7 pm. With the nights starting to close in, it would be dark by then in any case.

Asking around a few park workers they soon located Albert Postlethwaite near the Potting Sheds, burning a pile of leaves. In the darkening gloom the burning file made a cosy red glow, as Albert offered them tin mugs of Tea: he seemed to have taken a liking to Bertie’s erratic banter.

“Yes Guv’nor, it were about 7 pm larst noight” said Albert, in a peculiar accent comprising his native Yorkshire, entwined with the particular mangled vowel sounds of the Londoner-or at least someone who had lived in their midst for some years.

“I was collecting leaves in me barrer, when them two walked paast-a nice yound gentleman and lady, I see’s ’em quite orften on their way too and from the Palace loike.”

“The Palace old chap? Kensington Palace you mean?” asked Bertie.

“Thaat’s roight Sir. Orn their way ‘ome I shouldn’t wonder” replied Albert. “They’s walkin’ ouit together by the look of it.”

“I see Mr. Postlethwaite” said Bertie, and then?…."

“Anyways I looked up, and there ’E were Sir, Like a thing out of ’Ell!” said Albert.

“All drippin’ and slimy ’e were, and with a face….” Alberts face paled slightly, “’Is face were loike a giant Frorg Sir, I promise you! And ’is feet, webbed loike a frorg too!”

" Anyway I took a step back, and ’e kind of waved a kind of net. ANd the two of them-they went limp loike rag dolls and fell to the ground!" continued Albert.

“I called for young Percy and Willaim, ’oo were round the other side of the Green ’ouse, but when I turned round again Sir, they were gorn: all three of them!” he concluded.

“I say!” said Bertie. “Dashed Rum, What?”

“Aye Sir! Rum indeed.” agreed Albert.

“And can you show us where this happened?” Asked Henry. He led them off a few hundred yards towards the eastern end of the Serpentine, and pointed to the strip of wet grass between the lake edge and the path. Henry moved closer to examine, while Bertie thanked Albert, who returned to his duties.

There were indeed, still to be seen, footprints which resembled those of some sort of giant man sized frog. Also present were two small circular burn marks on the grass, in the centre of two of the footprints.

“Most odd” thought Henry.

With the park about to close the group decided to leave and visit the lodgings of Percival Parker, located in nearby Pimlico: it was Percival who had disappeared on the second occurrence on 19th October at 7.10 am.

As they approached the address it appeared to be the sort of lodging house establishment typical of young working men in the city: a three story house run no doubt by a landlady, who let off several of her rooms to young men who worked as clerks, accountants or similar in the city.

Bertie’s charm worked again, and he soon had the formidable looking Mrs. Higgins eating out of his palm. With a voice that could have shattered glass she called down Mr. Theodore Roberts- a young clerk who was a particular friend of the missing Percival.

“Yes he is a decent enough cove old Percie” said Theodore, “He often comes for a drink with me and the other chaps at the weekend”.

“And did he work at the Palace?” suggested Bertie.

“Yes that’s right” replied Theodore, “Though of course he wouldn’t talk about it much. Some sort of under secretary or assistant I gather. He would have been on his way to work when he went missing.”

Examining his room they found a number of novels in French, Spanish and Italian: it appeared that Percival was a talented Linguist. His bicycle, which had been abandoned at the scene and recently returned by the Police, also had its lamp slightly dislodged and a mudguard slightly bent-furhter possible evidence of a collision or other calamity.

“It seems to me that this business might have something to do with the Palace” suggested Bertie.

“Agreed” said Henry. “With the disappearances either at seven in the morning or seven in the evening, I would guess that is when they change shifts at the Palace. Horace and Millicent would have been on their way home from work at 7 pm, and Percival on his way to at 7 am.”

“We need to stake the place out tomorrow morning?” suggested Sebastian, “And then maybe look for this Tramp chappie who was witness to the very first vanishing on the 15th.”

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The Hyde Park Mystery (22nd October 1888)
22nd October 1888

Henry paused and stared at the man studiously feeding the ducks. About his own age, dapper clothes, an over coat and Derby hat. There was something familiar about his face and then it dawned on him.

“Reggie! Reggie Fox!” he exclaimed. The man turned and looked at him, eyeing him suspiciously.

“I beg your pardon Sir? Do I know you?” the man asked.

“Reggie it’s me. Henry! Don’t you recognise me?” The man peered, and then a faint smile broke on his lips and he started laughing softly.

“Well, well. Henry Rothmann. Well I’ll be blowed! And after all these years!” The man stepped forward and the pair shook hands.

“I read about the Moon business: I thought it might be you. Not that I’ve had much time to think about things of late” he complained, a shadow passing briefly across his face.

“I’ll tell you what Reggie, I’ll stand you a cup of tea in the cafe’. What say we have a quick catch up?”

The two had been at Prep. school together, but when Henry had returned to his family in Kenya, the two had parted ways. Reggie had attended on a scholarship, and Henry was dimly aware that his parents were not quite as well off as his own. As the two swopped their stories, he gathered that Reggie had not been able to afford University, and instead had made a career for himself in the Police: he was now a Detective Inspector in Scotland Yard. That explained the man’s look of tiredness.

“I expect they are running you fellows ragged at the moment?” asked Henry.

“Yes that’s right” said Reggie sourly. “Only fifty detectives to cover the whole of the metropolitan area, and everyone chasing up enquiries on this Ripper business. I’ve not slept for two nights, not had a day off for three weeks. Until today that is-I’m just exhausted.”

Henry nodded sympathetically. “Well Hyde Park as the leaves start to turn is as pleasant a place as any”, said Henry. “For myself the autumn is one of the things I really miss about my time in England. The colours and the leaves- Duck Apple Night and Guy Fawkes. Do you remember that bonfire on the rugger field and old Stotter? I wonder what became of him?”

“Bought it in Zululand I’m afraid” said Reggie. “I attended the funeral. Good old Stotter!” A series of other reminiscences were exchanged.

“Anyway, I’m not quite here for the leaves old man” continued Reggie, “Always the Detective me. I thought thinking about a different problem for a day might untangle my thoughts a bit, not that I’m making much progress.”

“Another problem?” asked Henry.

“The Cryptic Adventure of the Hyde Park Horror” laughed Reggie, mimicking the style of a Penny Dreadful title. “Can our heroes solve the riddle of the monstrous Man Frog?”

“You’re stirring my soup, old man” smiled Henry.

“No really, I’m not!” laughed Reggie. “I say, I’ve just had a sterling idea! You’re attached to the Explorers Society now, aren’t you?”

“Well yes. Now that you mention it.” said Henry.

“Look here. With all our time-my time- being allocated to the Ripper Case, the Yard has pretty much no resources to push at anything else. So what we’re doing is farming out other cases to Consulting Detectives.”

“But Reggie”,said Henry mildly, “I’m no Consulting Detective.”

“Oh come on Henry you were always sharp eyed” said Reggie, “And I understand you’ve something of a reputation in the African bush. Persistence and a sharp eye are the two main skills a detective needs.”

“What if I pushed it that you-the Great White Hunter and Hero of the Moon Landing- were currently working with the Society?. I could suggest to my Super that we approach you through them. A bit of fun for you, and a bit of pocket money too. Plus my Division gets one set of complaints off our backs while we deal with this other business. To be honest we need to deal with it before it grabs the attention of the Rags.”

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